Monday, March 30, 2015


WOW!! What a weekend it was!! We have been Zippityin’ and Doo-in’ and Dah-in’ since Thursday with the WORLD FAMOUS Sweet Potato Queens. Chapter upon Chapter of Sweet Potato Queens descended on the Jackson MS area and commenced their annual celebration of laughter, fun and raisin’ money for the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.  Our own BOSS Queen, Jill Conner Browne, leads this effort with her own brand of humor, wit, wisdom and passion. Her string of BEST SELLING books attest to the fact that she ain’t no flash in the pan. If you need more information or just plain curious...try here:
We have much to show and tell!! So, with apologies to HRH Jill Connor Browne’s wonderful talk yesterday, “let’s get all up in it”.  First up…food stuffs!!
Our FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe this week was Tofu and Vegetable Cacciatore . We decided to take advantage of Big Solid being away on a work assignment to enjoy two of our favorite vegetables…EGGPLANT and SPAGHETTI SQUASH. And enjoy we did—check it out!!
We sauteed the onions!
 Then added the veggies and tofu...
Next up were the diced tomatoes

It simmered and got all good and then!! Then we plated with the spaghetti squash.

Then added some vegan Parmesan cheese and gobbled it up like it was manna from above!
Y'all have NO idea how much fun we are having with Susan Voisin's wonderful FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipes. We have most certainly expanded our horizons (but NOT our waistline) with her EXPERTness! SOOO...for this week’s recipe, we are already salivating over Vegan Sausage and Mushroom Etoufee...

Y’all also know that we love to bake and cook for people and on Wednesdays we always try to take the special folks out at the Animal Rescue Fund No-Kill Animal Shelter a treat of some kind. Most everybody likes sweets, so we usually take cookies or some kind of sweet somethin’. This week, the Elf tried a new recipe called Ugly but Good Vegan Cookies and damn if they just aren’t the best cookies we’ve made in a while.
There is some labor intensity involved but when you consider the results, the nutritional values (very low sugar) and the few number of ingredients, it’s worth every second. So, here’s a looksee at these great cookies. If you try them, please go over the recipe site and comment…we want to give credit where it’s due, for sure.
First we got the almonds ready in the processor
 Then we ground those suckers up til they looked like big sand and added the ground oats and spelt flour

Next, we added the melted coconut oil and maple syrup (oh the aroma!!) and mixed it up really good. Then it sits for about 15 minutes to get nice and workable
 Next up is rolling in a walnut sized ball and filling with whatever yummy jam you want and baking
When you take them out and let them cool, you just pile up your plate with them and consume! we did, make another batch the next day and fill with a vegan chocolate concoction (after they had baked and were pretty cool). HOLY MOLY GOOD!!
Actually, the chocolate filling was about a cup of vegan chocolate chips, a couple of tablespoons of vegan butter (Earth Balance or your own favorite) melted slowly in the microwave. We then took a small plastic baggie, poured the chocolate mixture in and cut off a small (emphasis on SMALL) piece of the tip. We then used that to fill the small holes in the cookies. It was all we could do to wait for them to cool enough to eat! 

Now..y’all know that the Elf has been cookin’ up a storm in ANTICIPATION of ‘spend the night company’ for a while now. We simply MUST share some of the fun from this past weekend and food, as well. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen my brother…he lives in a galaxy far away (Raleigh NC) and has many irons in the fire. So, the Elf was DELIGHTED when he and his sweetheart, Suzanne, arrived at the Elf-house to enjoy, work and otherwise rabble-rouse through Zippity Doo Dah weekend with the Elf and the Sweet Potato Queens. So, we’ve been a bit of an ‘Elf-lander’…out of our kitchen element for a few days.
My brother (he's the guy), Suzanne (his honey) and The Elf at the Bathrobe Brunch to round out the Zippity weekend.
Celebrity Mannequin, Mail Order Annie, was on hand for ‘Selfies with Annie’. She had so much fun helpin’ to raise money for ‘the chirren’ by posing with the various queens (members of the various chapters of Sweet Potato Queens), virgins (a first timer to the Zippity Doo Dah weekend and parade), and sluts (well, no longer an event virgin).  A bit of history--Jill Connor Browne started the Sweet Potato Queens about 30 years ago by declaring herself the SP Queen and throwing sweet potatoes out of the back of a truck at the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Jackson. Since then, over 6000 chapters of Sweet Potato Queens have been established WORLD-WIDE. Y’all there is even a chapter of Sweet Potato Queens in Saudi Arabia—their motto is “No Veils for Us”. 

Little Bay Queens and winners of the Big Hat Contest with KILTGIRL Annie!
This Berry Queen brought her very own Selfie Stick!
And on the fourth weekend in March, many, many of those chapters descend on Jackson MS for the Zippity Doo Dah weekend and parade. Last year’s parade and fund-raising efforts resulted in the purchase of a special van which would allow the palliative care children at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital to go on field trips. We will happily report out the final effort of this year’s parade and activities as soon as the final results are in. This year's Zippity Doo Dah theme was 'Bravehearts for Batson' with the Parade Grand Marshall none other than Randall Wallace who wrote the movie Braveheart!! He was so busy we didn't get a picture with him but he does look mighty fine in his kilt!
This is Queen Pippa (one of THE SWEET POTATO QUEENS!) and The Elf!
 These gals are from The Villages in Florida!
And finally, The Elf got a special treat in the form of A MUG with her MUG!! Compliments of her talented and cool brother. We LOVE it!!
OK folks..that will do it for this week. We have much to do to catch up…bread to bake, cookies to make, sausages to concoct, FFVK meal to do, Shredded Chikun to restock, ARF pups to walk and pet …and so it goes. It is a great week ahead. Thanks for joining us and we hope you’ll return. Til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.
The Elf

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Expertery and Elfinery -- The Good, The Not So Good and The Delicious!

This has been a most interesting, busy, and delightful week for The Elf. We seem to be sorta caught up on our ‘cooking up a storm and freezing stuffs’ so we can have quality time when Jud (Elf Brother) and Suzanne (Elf Brother Girlfriend) arrive later this week.

Before we dive into The Expert’s dish of the week, Vegan Cabbage Rolls, we wanted to share another fun interaction we had with Brooke Foster at a local restaurant called City Grille. Brooke is the fiancee of owner/chef Zack Athearn and is vitally involved in the operations side, along with Zack’s Mom, Kim Kroeze. Anyway, Brooke sat with us not long ago for a bit when she had some breathin' room and asked The Elf about being vegan. What led us to move from being vegetarian to vegan? What do we eat? How soon a vegan entrĂ©e will be a part of the City Grille menu. How has eating plant-based made a difference in our lives?

Brooke and The Elf at City Grille in Madison MS
It was another great opportunity to talk about all of the aspects of being a vegan or plant-based ‘eater’…the good, the challenges, the cooking, the misconceptions, the ‘humor’ and the stereotyping.

So many people say, “I just couldn’t be a vegan. I can’t give up eggs, cheese and meat.”  My response to that is “You don’t HAVE to make the leap in toto (and I don’t mean THAT Toto). Just go vegan for a day a week…challenge yourself to go one day without an egg, dairy, cheese or meat.” It CAN be done and The Elf will be handy for support, encouragement, recipes and other assorted stuffs. It took us 64 years to make the decision to become vegetarian and another 3 to become vegan.  Two earlier blog posts speak to this in more depth:
To V or Not To V posted 5/21 as our inaugural post
It’s Not As Hard As You Think posted 7/9

Perhaps the most exciting part of this, though, is the upswing in people asking about being plant-based with genuine interest and not derision.
The Expert’s recipe of the week…FatFree Vegan Kitchen’s Vegan Cabbage Rolls
OK—here we go. We undertook this recipe for a couple of reasons. First, it was the week of St. Patrick’s Day so we were compelled to do something with cabbage; second, we had never attempted cabbage rolls before so figure it was about damn time we did. We read over the recipe a couple of times and were fully cognizant of the need for preparation ahead of time. No surprise there. So, we cooked the lentils and brown rice on Monday; Tuesday we made the filling (and I thought I was going to have to throttle Big Solid because he kept sticking a spoon in for a bite or several). Wednesday was THE DAY. As you can see by the pictures, it IS a labor intensive effort and I told Big Solid about half-way through pulling leaves off a large head of boiling/simmering cabbage, "I’M NEVER DOIN’ THIS AGAIN".

So, how’d it turn out? Well there’s good news and there’s less good news. The good news is that the filling is outstanding; the less good news is that the cabbage leaves we pulled delicately off the boiling cabbage head were incredibly tough—even after over an hour of simmering in an enamel cast iron Dutch Oven.  Susan Voisin, THE EXPERT, and The Elf have communicated extensively about this and figured it was just one of those cabbages from hell that refused to soften up. And, we have decided that the recipe is most certainly worth another go. Perhaps we will try a different means of softening the leaves by the freezing method that Susan mentioned in the recipe (and will be trying herownself soon) OR pulling leaves from a simmering head AND then parboiling them a bit longer to assure a tender roll.  We are happy to entertain your comments on how you’ve obtained your cabbage leaves. Here's the progression of the recipe, the finished meal and the rest of the story!

We pre-cooked our lentils

and brown rice;
 The filling is finished a day ahead;
 Cabbage leaves gently taken from a boiling head of cabbage;
 Stuffed leaves ready for rollin'
Rolled and ready for the 'sauce'
"Roll 'em up, roll 'em up and THROW 'em in the pan"
Ready for a nice long simmer! ANTICIPATION!!

The finished plate...rolls, a bit of sauce and mashed potatoes (with skin)
The story doesn’t end here.  When you get lemons (or tough cabbage leaves) you made lemonade..or in this case CABBAGE ROLL SOUP! So here's what we did!

We had some leftover cabbage, shredded and sauteed it.

We 'unrolled' the remaining rolls, tossed the tough leaves and kept the luscious fillin'
We combined the filling and the sauteed cabbage;

We pureed half of the remaining sauce and added it with two cups of fatfree vegetable stock. We then added the non-pureed sauce with another two cups of veggie stock, some additional seasonings (you can pretty much add what you like). We added some liquid smoke, cayenne and harissa for some punch. All we need now is some cornsticks and a bowl. It's very very tasty and there's not a tough cabbage leaf to be found!

Now—the moment you’ve all been waiting for!!! TA-DA!! Next week’s recipe! Well, since Big Solid will be out of town, we will prepare a dish using a vegetable he doesn’t particularly care for…eggplant. This one sounds awesome and very low calorie, which means The Elf can eat ALL OF IT!! Tofu and Vegetable Cacciatore!!
Other dishes we prepared during the week were a luscious asparagus tofu scramble, the FFVK recipe for Colcannon Puffs and a veganized Fruit Cocktail cake. We used cabbage in the colcannon where as FFVK used kale. We also made our ‘puffs’ a bit smaller…in fact, they came out so light, we called them Colcannon Bluffs because they bluffed you into thinking you were eating a lot!
We ate these by the handfuls!!

For our ARF peeps this week, we made a veganized version of that old favorite Fruit Cocktail Cake. Our main concern was how to create a dairy free evaporated milk for the topping. There are several options but we wound up using a double portion of powdered soy milk. We were apprehensive about how it would taste. If you'll notice in the upper corner of the cake, a small piece is missing...we HAD to try it, dontcha know?? Well, we were NOT disappointed A'TALL!! It was delicious.

And finally, we love a tofu scramble and this week's was no exception. A nice asparagus tofu scramble with mushrooms, onions, 'shredded chikun' and home baked pumpernickel toast. It served us for a couple of meals which is fine by us!

So, there you have another week with the Elf. We hope you'll return to us next week and enjoy another recipe and other Elfin adventures. In the meantime, that’s the vegan wrap for this week.  Til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.
The Elf



Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Elf Abides Thanks to The Expert!

Y’ALL!! Before we launch into our Expert and Elfin cookery adventures, there are a few things to share with you.

FIRST!! You have NO IDEA how excited and THRILLED we were when, on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after we’d posted our blog last Sunday, there were roughly 1100 ‘hits’!! WE had to look at the number twice and just squealed over to Big Solid to LOOK!!  We KNOW that having Susan Voisin’s support has been a HUGE catalyst for this and we’ll take it and run with it. We love plant-based cooking and if this little blog can influence or help, all the better. So a REALLY BIG Elfin ‘Thank You’ (we know that’s an oxymoron but you get it) to all of you who read The Elf.
The Elf got herself a CARD!!
SECOND..toward that end, we have taken your comments seriously in terms of trying to make this blog more reader friendly. We are trying to find someone to tutor us in the fine art of 'bloggery', making it easy for you to follow The Elf and to expand our readership. So, in the meantime, as we work toward better 'bloggering', we’d be obliged if you’d help spread the word and share us with your buddies.  We HAVE added a couple of things to the blog that should be helpful (THANKS to THE EXPERT, SUSAN VOISIN)—we now have a link for email subscriptions to the blog as well as an RSS feed. We also think that we MAY have fixed the capability to comment. If you try to comment on this blog and it won’t work, please e-mail me at to let me know.

And THIRD, for those of you who are new to this blog, we DO have a FaceBook page of the same name, so if you’re interested in daily updates from The Elf, please find and ‘like’ our page. It would be AWESOME if our little FB page got the same number of likes as we got hits this past week!!
FFVK Veggie dogs…recipe of the week
If you follow The Elf in the Kitchen FaceBook page, you’ll know that we had a great time with our EXPERT recipe this week…FatFree Vegan Kitchen’s version of a hot dog.
The hot dogs turned out great…and tasted like, well, HOT DOGS!! Even as we were making the dough and adding all the seasonings, we could really smell the ‘real’ hot dog aroma. That smell really permeated the kitchen as the ‘dogs’ were steaming. The texture was nice and firm and the flavor was very very good.
Dry Ingredients All Set Up
Pre-rolled veggie dog dough

Ready for the Mouth
You’ll also notice that our attempt to make hot dog buns in which to place these lovely hot dogs was something less than the desired result. HOWEVER, we did seem to invent/bake or otherwise come up with the MOTHER OF ALL HOTDOG BUNS. The fault was ours, mostly, as the dough was lovely albeit very soft. We had no sense of how small or big to make the buns for the final rising and the recipe directions were a bit confusing, so we just did the best we could. The directions indicated two baking sheets would be needed but gave no indication of how many buns per sheet or how big the buns should be as they went for the second rise. Consequently, two baking sheets wound up with 6 buns each. They LOOKED small when set aside for the second rise—BUT—holy moley, they did grow up! And they sorta fell while baking because we misread the baking time and cooked them longer than directed. So there will be no link to the recipe until we figure out how to make it ‘more better’.  All that being said, the buns actually turned out to be really good for a panini or sandwich. And when it came time for our ‘hot dog’ dinner…we just sliced the top off and used it by itself.
Seriously!! Big BUNS!!
Baked and Flat but Still Delicious!
Soo—that brings us to our EXPERT recipe for next week. This one is a no brainer. It’s St. Patrick’s Day week, so something cabbagey is most definitely in order. Without hesitation, it’s gonna be the FatFree Vegan Kitchen version of cabbage rolls.
We realize this is a challenge, especially since we’ve NEVER made cabbage rolls before. We understand it’s damn near an art form…so we are gearing up for the challenge. We may even have to dispense with our audio book that usually keeps us company in the kitchen and FOCUS on the task at hand.
You know, we have long believed that the best way to change the world is one person at a time. This week we had an interesting spin on that idea and here’s how it went down.  We were getting a much needed haircut and chatting with the operator about my brother and his sweetheart’s upcoming visit for Zippity Doo Dah weekend. We mentioned how we’d been cooking up a storm in advance so we’d be able to spend quality time together.  As she was snipping away, she asked if we’d be eating vegetarian and we, of course, said yes…but mentioned it was vegan. She then clarified by saying, “So you don’t eat eggs?”
“Nope”…so then she said,
“Well, what DO you eat? If you don’t eat meat, chicken or fish and then no eggs or cheese, what else is there?”  

COWABUNGA!! What an opportunity to share what a great eating experience vegan cuisine can be!!  So, we whipped out our cell phone and showed her some pictures of the plant-based items that we prepare and consume. She was truly amazed that instead of a bale of hay and a seaweed smoothie, she saw ‘REAL FOOD’ that LOOKED good. For instance:
Zucchini Noodles, Shredded Chikun and Broccoli
Harissa/Maple Sausage Biscuit
Shredded Chikun Salad ala TEFF LOVE Tempeh Salad

Banana Bread Cinnamon Rolls
'Cheery Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
By the time we'd shown some of these pictures, this lady wanted to try a vegan dish or two. So I invite all folks who are not vegan to go vegan for ONE day. If you need any ideas, tips or otherwise delicious plant-based menu ideas, by all means, give us a heads up. You can e-mail us (see e-mail address above), post on our The Elf in the Kitchen FaceBook page or our personal page as Janne Patterson Swearengen. Feel free to peruse any of the past Elf posts for links or go to any of the great Vegan sites on FaceBook or the internet (via Google) such as these (just a sampling):
We continue to solicit stories from any of y’all who became vegan as a senior citizen…we’d love to feature your journey.

Whereas most days of the week are ‘cookery’ days, we reserve Sunday as ‘wordery’ days where we complete the blog, make lists and take time to enjoy a book (and yes, the Elf's nickname is Kiki).
Elfin 'Wordery'
So, y’all have a wonderful week ahead (HAPPY St. Paddy's Day!!) and join us again next Sunday for another enchanting and riveting culinary experience with The Elf in the Kitchen. So, that’s a vegan wrap for this week.  Til next Sunday, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants, laugh a lot, and love life.
The Elf